I've always felt a bit sorry for Mrs Bennet. It was all very well for Mr Bennet to cast his eyes to heaven, and sigh and sneer over her fluttering, and her whittering, and her desperate, all-consuming, excruciating desire to get her daughters married off. But what was she meant to do? She had five daughters and no money. Their market value was waning by the day. And he wasn't offering any helpful solutions.
If the girls remained unmarried, they would have a home while their father lived. After that, they would have to accept the charity of a distant relative or a maiden aunt. As waspish Emma Woodhouse (surely, much more like Jane Austen than Elizabeth Bennet) said: "A single woman with a very narrow income must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid." Which, of course, is why Charlotte Lucas – pragmatically, wearily and really rather bravely – accepted the proposal of Elizabeth's pompous cast-off, Mr Collins. She knew what awaited her if she didn't.
But that, ladies, was then. Now, in order to have a roof over your head, and food in your stomach, and even the odd frock, you can do this thing called earning a living. You can do this by getting something called a job. Yes, it can be hard work – sometimes even harder work than indulging the whims of a mini Hitler at home – but it can also be quite satisfying. It gives you this thing called independence, and this other thing called dignity. You can still have a love life. You can still have sex with a man, you can even live with a man, you can even cook dinner for him, if you want to (or he can cook dinner for you), but you do it because what you like about him is him. Not his money.
It seems pretty extraordinary to be spelling this stuff out, but we live in an age when a psychotherapist third wife of a former Python flounced out of a marriage with £12m she didn't earn, and when a "charity worker" second wife of a former Beatle flounced out of a (four-year) marriage with £24m she didn't earn, and when a director of an accountancy firm gets jailed for four years for fiddling half a million in expenses to cheer his (second) wife up.
It's slightly hard to imagine why anyone would want to spend an evening with these women, let alone a lifetime, but hope, to paraphrase Johnson, had already featured prominently in each of these situations, even if it didn't ultimately triumph.
Earlier this week, one of the country's most senior family lawyers, and a crossbench peer in the House of Lords, gave a speech on divorce. "The notion that a wife should get half of the joint assets of a couple after even a short, childless marriage has crept up on us," said Baroness Deech. "It is no wonder", she added, that "England is the divorce capital of Europe".
She's right on this, and she's right that divorce has become too easy, and she's right that too many children suffer as a result. She's right, too, that the idea of "fault" is not irrelevant. Is it really fair that some men, after a 20-year marriage and maybe 30 years earning and supporting their families, should have to live in a bedsit because their wife had an affair, and the three-bedroom family home (which is as much as most people can afford) is too small to downsize?
Linking property with love has always been tricky. Linking it with children is even harder. We all know, in this week of the digitally remastered Beatles, that money can't buy you love. It is, however, quite good at buying you a bitch.
High heels (but low pay)
Perhaps it's because I can't wear them without towering over male colleagues (which, apparently, is a very bad idea, as it makes the poor darlings feel threatened) but I really don't get high heels. I can see that they make legs look longer. I can see that they foster cosy fantasies (if you like that sort of thing) of dominatrixes and sexy secretaries in Secretary. I can see, in other words, that they're sometimes fun. I can also see that a six-inch stiletto with a 10-stone weight on top of it could be a handy weapon, and a handy threat. But all the time?
It's slightly depressing that the big news to emerge from the TUC Congress yesterday wasn't on Brown's use of the c-word (come on, boys, was it really such a shock?) but women's shoes. They cause "health and safety" problems, apparently, and I'm sure they do. More seriously, they indicate a growing pressure for women in the workplace to be girly. Since the pay gap between men and women appears to be rising, we can safely say that the policy isn't working. Isn't working, that is, for women.
How London transport put me off Oysters
If the future is swipe cards, count me out. We've got them at work now. You have to swipe yourself in through the revolving doors, swipe yourself into the office, swipe your drinks and your snacks, and sometimes I try to swipe myself at night through my own front door.
And it's always at the moment when you've just ordered a giant coffee and a gargantuan cake that the thing bleeps that you have insufficient credit. Coffee, cake and blessed reward for the words you've sweated, are deferred.
But this is nothing to the hell that is Oyster. A thing that conjures up lovely images of sunlit lunches on rocky shores (and, now, blissful last moments of TV chef bon viveurs) and which was, apparently, introduced to make the life of public-transport-using Londoners a little less like that in an outpost of the former Soviet Union, seems expressly designed to turn you psychotic. In theory, it's cheaper. But it's not cheaper when you put £20 on your card and it disappears in about five minutes because you forgot, late at night, or in a moment when you were actually thinking about other things, to seek out that little yellow policeman in a barrierless exit, and tap. The punishment, and the fine, is instant, but you won't discover it until a machine on a bus emits the wrong kind of bleep and an inspector gives you a fine.
If, for example, a machine makes a mistake (and, would you believe it?, machines sometimes do make mistakes) and wallops you with a "maximum single fare", you can ring up. But not for 24 hours, you discover after going through the menu, and then not on Monday, because the system has been upgraded, and then not on Tuesday, because there is "exceptionally heavy call volume" and because you are number 17 in the queue and, funnily enough, you haven't got all day.
So, I'm going back to paper. Cardboard travel cards. Alibis. Things that you can flash to show you're not a criminal, and that everything isn't your fault, all the time.Reuse content